Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Call From My Friends

Talked to my friends Damien and Sarah/ Sarah and Damien (you have to be careful about the order in which you do these things) yesterday.  Was delighted to hear from them, as they are durably fantastic friends.  

Sarah asked me at some point in what ways writing this Blog differed from journaling for me.  In some ways, some of my readers may be happy to point out, if differs from a diary not at all.  My most hyperbolic sentiments abound, and reading this thing, is being with me.  Should the person in the flesh drive you bonkers, then reading this Blog is not going to change your heart.

So yeah, life's embarrassing, being human is gross, and should a portrait ever be painted of me about which some admirers swoon, it will have far less to do with Andy Coffey, then this Blog.

Swooning yet?

Both Damien and Sarah are up to some pretty fantastic stuff.  They have two gardens, which they are approaching in a predictably more sensible fashion than virtually anything I ever do.  They both have very organized minds, and habits.  And as couples go, seem pretty complimentary.  

Sarah asked me as well something about my gardening, and it is hard to explain how we were discussing it, but it inspired me, to write this chapter, which I am always appreciative of.

I am going to write the section about the garden, on the garden blog, however, since I sorely need to write something on that blog pertaining to the same.  Here's a link to the entry:  Cabinet of Natural Curiosities.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Venetian Blind Serape's (Or How To Go Hungry Again)

Hmm... so I  was visited by someone I used to be pretty close to.  It seems he has got himself in a mess with this restaurant (well, barely a restaurant) that he unfortunately didn't know any better than to tangle with.  Let's call him Swaney.  I never met anyone with that name.  And his story is not flattering.

Swaney has what some people would call a little problem with his head.  It's not that he's slow. Just that he's excitable.  Few years ago he asked me to be his campaign manager for national office.  As is usually the case when otherwise normal people run for president, I figured he thought that was a pretty good joke.  But Swaney wasn't joking.  I told him, of course, that I was honored. 

Swaney used to be more or less OK, but as he's aged, and certain realities have set in, and his bodies gotten more efficient at utilizing food, certain forms of a normal life have, he's come to realize, escaped the orbit of easy reach.  And Swaney doesn't seek what Swaney can't find more or less immediately. 

So, while he used to pull off little jobs here and there for interesting people, and show a creative flair in a number of areas of life, more and more for Swaney, the really good times are found on the internet, wasting money, wasting time, and providing the satisfactions of winning and losing (like anyone who, say, goes to a bookie, Swaney say's he's winning, but do you really believe that?  Far sadder is the fact that it don't matter.)

So yeah, Swaney's nuts, but there was this thing.  He was going to put away some of his sadder broken dreams, and he was working at this sandwich shop.  He liked it!  It provided some structure to his life, he could vaguely imagine he owned it when he was alone, and some customers even kind of gave him a look like, "I don't know how you did it Bud, but this is a cute little place."  Swaney knew he probably shouldn't brag to people about this new thing in his life, so he just told people, "I think food service of my true advocation."  His restraint, all things considered, was admirable.

I see Swaney, not every day, but frequently, and he comes by my garden, and sometimes used to play poker with me and my friends until one night we caught him with aces in his fly (yeah, he left the barn door open.  After I pulled my friends off of him, I told him, "Hey, at least you got an ace in your pants.  I've never even met someone who could say that.")  Why anyone would cheat on a friendly game of poker for, maybe twenty five dollars (yeah, boring, but not as boring as watching TV, or going to a chick flick.) Swaney probably couldn't answer that, as when you catch him in a lie, his basic look is as if he were a completely different person than "that guy" who sometimes acts crazy, and by the way, do you really want to have unpleasant conversation?  All too often my attitude is, "Absolutely!"  So Swaney, who like I said, I and many other people as well, used to be tight with, stays away.  

Here's the thing though.  I don't even want to see Swaney sometimes.  But, when you hear someone has taken advantage of him...  When you hear that someone, maybe realized they were dealing with a lonely, chump with this Swaney twerp, and maybe they could just take a steak out of his ass...  hmm, kinda pisses me off to realize how much I like the guy after all.  He has these annoyingly angelic and hopeful perspectives.  Especially back in the day.  But even now, he's one of those guys who might have aces in his fly, yeah, but then he'll say something fairly mean, but true, about me to my face, and I'm always grateful.  Nothing I hate more than a man who's his own church, minister, choir, and public relations department, and somehow finds the time to be your friend.  Guys like Swaney walking around, and yeah, you're not gonna keep your chin up forever.  Like a balloon in a porcupine burrow.  And you're not the porcupine.

So, everything was wonderful at the crappy little sandwich shop.  Swaney didn't know good service from bad.  There were very few people who wished to endure the places product, so business was slow, not steady.  Swaney could swan around and dream.  And sometimes, every couple weeks, he could take that little check and cash it at the bank, and like the old timers say, "It was Friday night with a twenty dollar bill."  To the Internet, Swaney, and beyond.

About a month ago the owner of Swaney's little sandwich shop (who in fact owns a larger, more prosperous restaurant in town.  And yet was stupid enough to buy this failing little sandwich shop, and even stupider to hire Swaney, king of the Sandwiches.) just up and failed to pay Swaney.  Eager to prove his mettle, and show the strength of his character Swaney assured the owner, "this will not be a problem sir."  I, of course don't know, but I'm guessing the owner was mighty pleased such a fine and healthy specimen of sucker had arrived before him.  

A week later the check was still not in the mail, and Swaney was being somewhat less effusive with his few remaining friends (well, actually the people he cornered on the street) about the fantastic success he was having on the Internet.  Always a fan of the dollar store, and desperately low in his change can at home, he had asked the proprietor there one too many times how much something cost, and was the only person in history to be banned from the exclusive club otherwise known as Dollar Time.  Things were grim, but then again, was it not true that he was taking it like a man?

Meanwhile the owner of Swaney's lovely day job, was rubbing his palms together at Sam's club, trying to decide if he wanted to buy a new sign with scrolling letters (just like a bank!) or get ahead of the game with ten cases of banana peppers with the money that dimwit Swaney (who was admittedly a worthless employee, I am not denying that.) was loaning him.  Zero money down, and man, he wanted to buy everything at Sam's club.  Then again, perhaps he should slowly circle Sam's club and really try to make that two hundred dollars stretch.  

So, another week goes by, and I am clipping lettuce in my garden.  I get that, somebody is watching me feeling, which usually makes me feel kinda studly and arrogant when I am bent over clipping lettuce, but when I looked up I felt anything but studly.  

"Hi Andy," said Swaney.  His jaw was sort of out of kilter, and his eyes were very wide.  Something was amiss with his medication, so treating him like shit was out of the question.  Too bad.  Knowing his answer even as I asked it, I asked if he wanted some lettuce.

With great restraint I don't repeat his answer, here.  

"There something I can do for you, Swan?"  I said. "You need a ride, to the store, or something?"  

"Yeah," he said, "or, yeah, I guess I wish I  could go to the store."

"You wish," I said, a little more harshly then I probably should have.  "What do you mean?"

"Well, I need to go to the store, but you don't have to take me.  I have to go to my job and talk to my boss.  There has been a misunderstanding... I told him it was OK, but I'm completely broke. And I'm their best guy, I mean they wouldn't lose me, but... I'm gonna be OK, I just... how is your garden... is your lettuce doing well."

I looked at my feet and gazed upon the same lettuce patch that Swaney was staring at.  I supposed he would never know how much more I would rather talk about lettuce than his pathetic job, that only five minutes ago, I could have sworn was the best thing in his life.  Suddenly lettuce seemed somewhat irrelevant to me.  And Jesus, that was saying something.  "Swan, you know my lettuce is great.  Thanks for asking, especially since you don't even like lettuce.  Hey man, you're not alone.  Good company there.  What is going on Swan?  You saying they aren't paying you at your job?  Are you joking?"

"They promised they'd pay me," said Swaney, "and they are.  I'm just having a little trouble with money right now."  He was getting visibly more cranky, and I could tell, and wished more than a little that I was as clueless as the people on the street about his subtle tells.  Not that it ever helped when we were playing poker, given what he kept in his pants.

"Swan... calm down.  It's OK. We're friends when I'm not treating you like shit, you know that.  Everybody's got money problems, I mean look at Mr. Swank, where Rick lives. Custom house, shiny new Cadillac, and a mailbox stuffed with quarterly reports, and what's he doing as we speak?  Do you know Swan?" 

"Yeah," said Swaney, "I heard he is selling the place for nothing."  I had to hand it to him, he knew the local dirt.

"Far as I know, we're sharing that party line, Swaney.  Mr. Swank's going down on a double mortgage, half the people we know are worried about their jobs or getting fired.  I have no work three months from now, and that's not what I'd call progress.  So I know you haven't got any money.  You need fifty bucks or something, I mean Swan I don't see as much of you anymore, but we live in a small town for Christ sake.  You know you're my friend.  And I'm not going to ask for it back, until somebody finds the Lindbergh baby, OK?"

I think I saw a tear in the son of a bitches eye.  Which made me feel pretty shitty, given what a hypocrite I am about caring about marginal folks, then not even maintaining  a real relationship with this guy who is more or less lovable in small doses (and frankly I like the fact that he didn't want any lettuce, I was getting low.)  We walked down the street a few blocks to the ATM.  And while we went down there he told me the story.  It had been nearly a month, and his boss had told him originally that he had to go to some wedding, so he wouldn't make it with the money.  At first, as I said, Swaney had been proud to show his boss that he wasn't desperate for money.  But now his entire savings was gone (and frankly, I was impressed, I had been to Swaney's house and I couldn't believe his usually bare refrigerator had been able to feed him.  He was banned from the Dollar Store, I couldn't remember who told me that, but I was trying hard to not bring it up while we walked back to my house.)  

"OK, Swan, I'm glad you came and talked to me." I told him. And we said goodbye.

This was two days ago.  I have been thinking about it ever since.  I am late for my schedule to go to the Gym today, but, I had to write this just to mill through my head.  I'm probably too hot under the collar to go into the actual (bigger restaurant) and calmly reason with that pile of dog crap that was having a holiday at Sam's club with Swan's money.  For all I know, his bookie is after him.  If he's anything like the rest of America, he lost big on his big bet, and now has nowhere to turn.

But then again.  I don't think that's the case.  That ding dong boss of Swaney doesn't owe him enough money to not be able to pay.  He just found his mark, and because he thinks Swan looks like a guy without a soul in the world (Swaney's Dad is actually a hotshot at a University that will go unnamed.  Not in Bloomington, down South.  From everything I could tell over the years, his parents are just great.  It's tragic, so I'm glad I've never met them.)  But I am fairly sure there is some sort of common law rule as to pay (one it's never occurred to me to break, since looking someone in the eye and not being able to pay them has been the most limiting factor in my willingness to take risks with my business.  I will never fail at paying somebody.)  In any case, I think, pretty soon I am going to go chat with Swaney's boss.  Not to be rude.  Just to let him know, that a bunch of Swaney's friends couldn't help but notice he was having trouble eating.  We were wondering, moreover, how someone who works for a dude running a restaurant, who is unwilling to pay, never the less manages to go hungry.  I mean, surely if you aren't going to pay someone, you'd feed him at your restaurant until you were square, right?

Before I go I have to look him up at the courthouse.  It's surprising the number of business owners who think you've been going through their trash cans when you casually mention to them what you found on public record concerning them and their life. Then again a hundred bucks on the guys name on one of these pseudo legal internet info trolling sites, and for all practical purposes you can go through their trash in your underwear.  Fortunately, I am way too cheap (not cheap enough to see Swann starve, goddamnit) to bother with any of that.  And I guess it's wrong at many different levels.  I'll admit that is the main reason.  

Then again I could just call the health department, and have both his restaurants shut down.  But honestly, the proper thing to do is just to tell the guy, and maybe have Mallor, Klendenning, Grodner and Moore (the law office that I unfortunately require) write him a letter.  Jesus, I mean I'm already out fifty bucks, and something tells me the poor guy's happy days at his job are over.

The guy was making seven dollars an hour.  Welcome to the bottom Swann.  Say hi to the Carp.


The Rogue From Alsace-Lorraine

Last night I got a call from an old friend.  My friend Matt Boyer.

As I mentioned in the chapter of this blog entitled Could Be A Whiskey Bottle, But Isn't, Matt has been a friend of mine since fifth grade.  It's not uncommon for me (though I forgot this year) to call his parents on Father's or Mother's Day.  They were there for nearly as long as I've been around, and are remarkably level headed people given the stresses of all of our lives.

Well, they surely brought my buddy Matt into the world with more than his instincts intact.  He remains a talented musician (who can actually perform in the real world without being laughed at, to some extent, unlike me.)  And he's a lot of surprising great things.  When we were kids I'd be awed at how he could kind of crack the room up with a kind of blond flash of winning humor that every last kid in the world would like (that remains in him, in spades.)  

Like everybody, the darkness and sucking sound  of innocence over a drain, got to him later on, and far less recklessly than me, but none the less unmistakably the happy kid felt real hunger for the first time in his life.  And what else is a real man hungry for than all the forms of the knowledge of good and evil?   Matt (and this is crucial for what I see in the man, my friendship with him aside) navigated the dangerous territory of good and evil as if he had a crystal ball.  And showed his parents love in the decisions he made.  He did a lot of surprising things (many of them deliciously adventurous) but always with his self at the apex of the experience and never submitting to anything he didn't believe in.  Never.

This is a rather rare quality in people from what I can tell.  Most of us will prostitute ourselves at various levels based upon the people we are eager to manipulate.  If the person we're manipulating is someone we regard as "important" then we don't even regard selling ourselves off as a sacrifice.  Just the ritual we natives do, for the higher purpose of being considered important ourselves.  A pretty cynical way to regard playing well with others, I know, but while thirty-five years is too young to die, it's too long to fail to see a bunch of kids get "All Grown Up."  In the Elvis Costello sense.  

"And you don't care anymore
And you hate all the people
You used to adore.
You despise all the rumors and lies
Of the life you had before,"

Matt's seen a little more of the truth of things than we are meant to.  Just refer to the statistics on depression and you'll get a grasp of how effective our desire to keep it real is at keeping an unrealistic dream (like happiness) a permanent feature of the innocent world we're too cool to return to.  

Funny thing about him is that he recognizes the darting beauty of happiness and beauty all the same.  There is a yearning about him and the art of his life that is hard sometimes to see for what it is.  A kind of unflappable and very calm realization of what's important in life. A rather difficult man to con in that sense.  He was always pretty good at calling me out on my rather heavy burden of bullshit.  And you'll never guess what happened when he did it.  I felt lighter, 'cus I put it down.

You see people all the time in the world who are wrinkled and rough hewn, but who's eyes scan the thousand yards they see too quickly to take your own off of them.  You want to ask them, "How did you earn that  quality of seeing, of looking?"  Dying people, and the infirm, yet still ok in the head have this directness.  I see people all the time, in fact feel blindsided by them more often than I wish, who have a whirling machination of a life, and their eyes look far, far, off to some strange place (probably the next item on their list.)  I'm not making fun of them, life is long, hard and complicated for folks who don't just up and die.  For the lucky ones who got enough that they can get up out of the dirt and work and push themselves.  Oliver Morton wrote in his unbelievably thoughtful book Eating The Sun about the set of "values" scientists work toward, and how it would probably be more appropriate to remember that even scientists working on Cancer or Global Warming or Stem Cell Research could more reliably be imagined to be satisfying their desires than following a virtuous path.  He even wrote that many of them are almost certainly hiding in their labs from the world.  I think he was talking about scientists, but really describing all of us.

When I describe these whirling dervish people like I described above (machinations...) what I leave out is just about everything.  I see them in public and very probably doing something they don't care much about (like getting a cup of coffee, or getting ready to go to work if I am in their house.)  Their work, if they are lucky (and this is the basic injustice of the entry level service worker.  Their soul is right there, next to their blue apron.) beckons them to a heavy couple hours in the Zone, where they can exhaust themselves on questions that they may not have an answer to every day, but that certainly have an answer and one that deliciously has nothing to do them.  You know what I mean?  There are people, of course, who love work that they consider to have everything to do with them (entrepreneurs for example. But the people I am talking about should NOT be such a thing, I'm guessing.)  

What's this got to do with Matt?  Most of us would kill to know the future, about ourselves or anyone really.  But what I've seen of Matt's life, his character, his friendship, his treatment of his parents, and his raw synthesis as a creative  person and technician is simple:  they are prescriptions for stable, resilient, meaningful, and rich happiness.  None of us know these things about ourselves of course, but who among us doesn't know one person (usually a woman, at least if your me, a man.  Even so, I think usually a woman,) who carries themselves with a certain degree of authority?  The phrases associated with this sort of person are things like self esteem, or poise, or confidence, but probably no better phrase than self possession. 

Now, I am many things, maybe even many wonderful things, but I am most definitely not self possessed.  People think I am sometimes since they see me sawing away at the branch I'm standing on and they can't help but swear to themselves, "He's nothing if not committed."  Yeah, that's for sure.

The only way I managed to avoid complete oblivion of my person was by near constant self endangerment.  This is arm chair psychology (or even Lazy Boy...) at its most earnest, but seriously, I know people and have friends who are self possessed.  It's sad, because even though they are sheer magic (not in every category, of course, but on the subject of themselves....) life has no fucking taste.  So it dispenses with the good, and the bad, and the ugly, at more or less the same rate.  Fools know why people suffer, then fail.  Which is good since someone would be taking care of them, if they didn't have their soft and fluffy certitude.  Then again slugs of certitude usually have some sort of entourage.  Like I said, life has no fucking taste.

Matt is self possessed.  Perhaps he knows this.  Charming people usually don't, which, one supposes, is why they charm in the first place. And thank God for that.   

I've read books by the sort of people who spend all their time working with the clinically depressed, and due to such exposure (especially to so called bi-polar individuals) have come to regard all forms of behavior seeking appreciation, or love, or being charming, as strongly indicative of not so good pathology.  I think that stacks up.  From what I know about myself.

Though I am not so sure my friends and lovers over the years who have asked me more times than I can count, "Why do you care about me?" would appreciate learning that my illness made me do it.  I'm rather comfortable that my melancholy that I have suffered from at times is an important part of my life (and yeah, I know a lot of crazy people think their illness is inseparable from who they "really are".  I am not crazy, I just act that way.)  I certainly was preening and fairly desperate for attention as a kid, and that hasn't changed a great deal, though I love being lied to to the contrary.  And I always will.

My point is that Matt has seen in me some of the gifts of my melancholy.  He's pretty much always regarded me as an extremely worthwhile if not crucial part of his life.  And how do I know this?  He told me.  Many times.  In fact, he just told me last night.

I'm not going to repeat our conversation, since I regard it as very near to sacred, but when we talk, we both know what the other needs to hear, which is a little like needing to be listened to, and hearing someone say what you don't know how to say.  Kind of astonishing.

Whenever I have been tempted to think there is something terribly wrong with actually feeling life for better, or for worse, I just think of Matt, who admires such a life tremendously, and again enter the circle of grace that it is to know him.

I was talking to my sister Mary last summer.  Mary is a fairly straight shooter, compared to me. Not boring at all, but I mean she has very deep feelings and longings that arise from an innate moral center.  So whenever we are together and teasing one another, a least a portion of our laughter and the whetstone of our cut ups usually comes around to my rather tricky make up over the years.  Which is another way of saying I have lied a lot in my life.  I'm sure my sister has lied, but she's always been more hesitant to do it then me, and in any case, stopped, more or less, after she got tired of getting caught (as a youngster.)  I was an extremely late bloomer as regards that.  Sometimes, I am a bit sensitive about being analyzed by my entire family, as regards my past, for obvious reasons.  But when it's one on one, I feel like I can hold my own.  At some point in the conversation I think I said something like, "For a few years in my late teens I just didn't want to deal with anybody else's opinion of how I should live my life.  So, if I knew the answer would be judgement, or 'No,' then I just lied."  I don't remember what Mary said, when I said this.  What I remember was her mirth and acceptance, and support of my self analysis.  Since I wasn't really thinking much about what came out of my mouth (a near certainty when you use the words, "I lie.") her reaction to what I said, always measured (she's Mary) kinda encouraged me to think about what I'd said for the whole trip home.

I knew from Care of The Soul, that book by Thomas Moore, that a lot more was going on when someone cheats on you or you lie, than just immorality suddenly being your own personal credo.  That's why I don't hate myself for forgiving the unforgivable.  And lord knows people have employed such rationalization when thinking about me. But what was it that had changed my point of view in my twenties besides the obvious stuff like knowing your going to spend the rest of your life with someone (and feel a relationship is sacred.)  Aside from not wanting to fart in Church, figuratively, I guess what changed me were a series of old friends.  And Matt was right there, dead center.  Here was me, insecure, colorful, fairly desperate for attention and love and admiration.  And here was Matt, telling me like some people must fantasize about (I know I have), "Andy you are an important person I look up to and admire.  And I hear people say wonderful things about you all the time."  Shit, even if he made it up, works for me. 

People tell you your worth something often enough, there is some chance you might be fooled into believing them. Even if you "know better."  A fair amount of my "pathology" was this knowing better.  And it runs in the family. Yet that very thing must have informed my parents love, they told me how, not just what. They didn't just love me.  They loved me for a reason.  I was a somewhat hysterical and extreme case, so while I wish they could have seen they got through to me a long time before I kind of realized my value on this planet, that isn't how it went.  

The story, of course, isn't over.  I think people forget that pretty much every day.  Life can't be like the movies, 'cus in life we seek to uncomplicate, whereas in the movies without complication, there'd be no plot, and thumbs would go down.  Character, and happiness to a great extent is a thumbs down business bedded in a serious environment of thumbs up love.  Matt was always willing to tell me why I was great, and why I shouldn't bullshit him.  In some ways it could be said, that he told me not to bullshit him 'cus he couldn't bear to see Andy Coffey do that.  Pretty nice mix of creativity and techne, don't you think.

Just a small list of the things he's done before I salute:

Bicycle Mechanic for many, many organizations, from the top of the field, to Dick's (retail.)

He deserves to own a Stratocaster. He can play, and toured Europe with Sun Kill Moon.  

He has written hundreds of songs.  And will play them in front of you.  

He worked for a bicycle touring company, in France, and befriended real wine loving people in Bordeaux.  I know people who like wine, but Matt has lounged about with the people and their terroir, asking them intelligent questions and drinking their life's work. He is such a scrupulously centered man that I guarantee you he drank more while doing that job than he has at any other point in his life.  Carpe Diem.

I'm not going to go into it, since it isn't even my business, but I have never seen such loyalty in a son, and such skill in giving to each of his parents their due, in my life.  There is no other example I can think of that matches it.  And I have a bad habit of finding my friends parents as interesting as my friends (try not to do that to people, by the way.)  So I know how they treat their family. That's one way I know who to waste my time with, or not.  I'd waste a year of my life on Matt, with a smile on my face.  

That ought to paint the picture.  Everyone loves their friends.  I guess I'm no exception.  Some people change you though.  Matt changed the way I thought about my self and my family.  He encouraged my interest in music, which growing up I was far too insecure to embrace.  He has consistently lived a more balanced, healthy, and broadly applicable life, while maintaining connections to the people who matter to him.  He recently lost a friend he had not talked to in some time and his reaction to his loss spelled his character in very large, bold type.  

When I die, I'd be surprised if anything save my name, age, and medical problem were typed up in black and white.  It goes without saying, but is much deeper than that, that my family, like all great family, would suffer horribly at my loss.  Beyond that, who would speak my life into the brittle fabric of tales that keep us alive beyond the grave?  I need not tell you my guess.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Anthopomorphic Chariots and Their Four Legged Id

I read the other day words by a father describing his feelings watching a video of one of his children giving a tour of the families town house in 1995.  Two little girls, sisters of the young man giving the tour, were toddling in the background.

This same gentleman had endeared me somewhat to his blog, last November, when he described his daughters at about age five and six, kneeling close to the screen of the television, saying, "I like this one..." one and then the other.

I have seen that happen with children I have cared for, and when you are very young it means nothing (somewhat like the antics of your siblings when you are all kids.)  But even at twenty eight years old, I heard in the little girls I was watching, as they conjured what words they could, that desire to mark the world with their profession that some things make you feel kinda great.

I could go on and on, about that, and really would like to, but the feelings my readers have are the better version, of whatever I might say.  

Of course, feeling great, isn't what the father was writing about.  In fact it is extremely interesting to me how feeling bad, and other improvisations of such feelings, guides and conjures, folds and massages our perspectives.  Sometimes so dramatically that a matter of some small significance (even insecurity) can become one of your more appreciated qualities in your life.  

This writing gentleman, who may or may not read these words (I wrote him a year ago, and he has written me back that he read some of my stuff, but his interests are very much outside of my own in most ways, so...) will go nameless.  The lessons I have learned from his writing about himself, aren't so particular in content, and can be found in the lives of almost anyone.  Mostly he interests me because he comes from one sort of world, in California.  And he has adopted a number of different camps in our pluralistic society to abide by; some of them antagonistic to others, and some of them that seem to stand in for expressions that his civic and religious bearing would not otherwise allow him to make.  Like most people, any label really doesn't describe him.  But he cultivates an appearance that does not completely honor that fact.  He is normal, in that sense (yet very interesting) and that's why I chose him to discuss.

But first a shaggy dog story (owed, in a sense to Issac Asimov...)

When I first came to Bloomington, I lived in my car.  It was not a particularly romantic decision, or experience, though I was safer than I had been in Indianapolis, and somewhat taken by a sense that I was surrounded by people who would naturally (in prejudice) regard me as a number of things that I could choose, or refuse, to exemplify.  Such is the privilege of some folks in certain places. 

I generally chose to exemplify.  Not to the satisfaction of, say, the Rotary Club.  But certainly to the satisfaction of the sort of people or persons that are attracted to this town.  

One day I was driving about and saw a restaurant/ bar with outdoor seating, and parked my car and entered the place and ordered a beer.  I went outside to the cheap plastic furniture and sunlight, and sat with the beer and stared out at the trees.  Shortly, a huge truck pulled in to the parking lot (which like many in my area, is at a steep incline, giving the truck an even bigger entrance into my imagination.)  I entertained the usual thoughts about this gleaming impostor into my virtuous journey.  I know so much better than this guy, I thought.  Or rather, felt.

The reason for the size of the truck became abundantly clear, when, a giant of a man, wearing the usual apparatus of midwestern middle aged men, withdrew from the apparently crowded confines of his cab.  Just before I turned my gaze elsewhere so as not to add to the instances this truck driving gentleman can tally that normally shaped people have realigned his normal brain, to his lack of normalcy, I couldn't help but notice, in one of his two liter sized hands he cradled a tiny, white dog.  

"Well," I thought, "at least I can stare at the dog with impunity." I took a sip of beer.

As the little white dog directed his anthropomorphic chariot into the bar, I couldn't help but notice the tiny thing (I have never really liked little dogs. Mostly I am impressed that they have convinced scientists that they come from wolves way back.  More on all that later.) didn't like me so much.  It was making a little sneering sound, that sort of echoed out of the instrument of the big man's hand, and was impressively suggestive of the dogs displeasure at my existence.  I was a bit baffled, knowing as I do, how lacking that little creature is in virtue, where it got the same idea about me.  But, then I noticed something really beautiful.  Something freakishly human, and yet otherworldly in what it suggested to me.  

As the fluffy white demon sneered louder and louder, in passing me to enter the bar, the look on the man's face was cracking ever so subtly, closer and closer to a grin.  That little dog was saying what, perhaps, the gentleman would never.

It occurred to me for the first time how lovely it must be to take the four legged cotton ball to the park, and watch it frolick about for a time, then trot up to some cretinous fellow and piss on his foot.  The giant could run up to the person and apologize profusely, his bellows of sorrow just pitiful enough to deny him the victims rage.  His size wouldn't hurt either.  But the cretinous fellow could only wring his shoe out when he got home, and shake his head for the thousandth time on why it is that in America we've never domesticated dogs for real.  They aren't our best friends (obviously.)  They are agents of our id.  Or happy coconspirators, taking the blame, and with no property to be confiscated by the arbiters of justice.  And their owners?  They must know they are drugged in the opiate of these uncivilized carnivores, right?  

Well, what was merely a wonderful night of lovemaking with your lover or wife, will become in time (you will profess to yourself or others or both) your reason for living.  If she gets pregnant that is.  And you will not be able to remind yourself of the lack of smooth transition from the nihilism of your ecstatic sexual shuddering, to the full embrace of the overwhelming implications of a baby's cry.  And yet you do not pace the floor of your life, wringing your hands at the fickle aims of your nature.  Everybody's got their reasons.  You grew up, settled down, became a responsible adult.  And it's hardly your fault that your method of achieving this was through the portal of karmic bliss.  And it had been awhile.

There is nothing too disturbing about the manner in which we achieve our greatest treasures.  That we call them achievements speaks to the sacred nature of the thing.  And not everything in life, even if it is cruelly expensive, yields to the clever formulae of economics, or the rational order that our memory sets up into like concrete.  Our mythologies and excuses are gigantic blessings, as anyone who's spent time in the company of people who are bereft of them knows.

The big man's dog may simply, like a farm animal caught flagrante delicto while chewing its cud, been indifferent, or saying hello.  But I have to wonder then, on the face of the man, why the smile?

The above may be seen (as I am routinely accused of in the eyes of folks who understandably could care less about my musings) mighty unrelated, or at best tangential to the father looking at his daughters pointing at ponies.  When we gaze with our minds at the father, our reminiscence is of wholesome (and what does that word mean, in its shape and form?) and healthy, beautiful archetypal things.  Truth and beauty and innocence and elegy.  And yet, that father is riddled with cruelties, some merely spraying back out of him, like an electrical shock looking for the ground, due to his receiving poor treatment like all of us. And some, confections of his own devising, little scribbles of transgressive graffiti, his message that this world is no utopia.  "You don't understand," a tag common to the teenager, are words undignified when used by a grown man.  But it all means the same thing, when a person doesn't just want, but requires the world to be recognized by those around them, as a place of trickery, that can't be trusted.  And while there are many options, to avoid a life based on such pathos, it doesn't help much that anger and pleading, and defiance in the hurt eyes of the sufferer are based more or less in the reliable facts of life.  Just one of the reasons why love, when applied (or really by the wise, shared) to a deserving soul, isn't very wordy at all.  This is painful to neurotics like me, who would babble even when eros is in the room, were I not playfully told to shut up. 

 I think of that late scene in the play/movie "W;t" where the well respected professor of English is visited whilst on her deathbed from Cancer, by a beloved student.  The student enters her room, and pauses, as the doorway to grief seizes all of us, and sits on a bed across from her, and takes out a book of what he knows are her favorite poems.  As he begins to read them, the professor feels tears in her eyes and cry's, "Please, no.  No... not now." And holds an arm out to her old (only?) friend/student.  Her friend runs up to her, embraces her, and climbs into her deathbed to share a faculty for something we learn from no one.  Language is our greatest technology (for Christ sake it's in my head and how I communicate to my self!  Might be sort of different then a hammer, one would think.)  But it isn't even a gift next to love.  And that is why I feel if not despair at my failures to love my siblings and friends properly, then at least a denting in the hubris that it was my failure to allow inside my mind. And like a virus, give birth to in my life.

Funny thing really.  Couldn't tell you the number of times I have seen people pass through the aura of other folks, walk right up next to the whole drama of another persons life, and simply be completely unaffected by the other person.  They probably would tell you, "I don't know that person."  Couldn't of said it better myself.

And then, a few years later, the same person, is lying on their couch, or driving their car, or talking to their baldheaded friend, and what do you know?  They are experiencing what they used to be blind to.  And it really is so different than they ever realized.  I mean, when something is really powerfully impressive it could certainly be said to be, "like it's in a movie or something."  But this example, for the person, this little slice of life they are leading, ain't like the movies at all.  Like the kid said (probably puppeting Mr. Speilberg) in E.T., "Frank, this is reality."  Our distressed friend could be said to have that as the subtext of every word they utter till the spell lifts.

These painful spells, and waverings into and out of empathic mastery, are intensely interesting to me.  I know people who seem like respectable folks in every way, and yet are completely threatened by a homeless old woman, or a person with a perpetual cloud over their crabby head.  Certain folks outside the norm, simply give them the willies or something.  

They say that you can see in an MRI (well, not exactly an MRI, but I can't remember the device used in conjunction to look at peoples brains. So...) a patterning of electrical activity in peoples brains that were it to be given a description in terms of their emotional posture, would fit the term "distancing."

I myself have been plagued my entire life with a nearly daily realization that I employ vicious preferences, and cut the strings of the "marionettes" I encounter that I would rather not see so vividly.  And somewhat worse (given that it can't be categorized as "human nature" by my friends, family and mentors)  I have failed to "notice" or take notice, or respond to the lives of family members when a more active witnessing of them was recommended by common sense: or simply love.  I have sat on the sidelines and simply lived as if nothing could be done for my siblings at times, when the opposite is true.  Even as my financial health dramatically improved, I would find my emotions charged enormously by media products like the New York Times or a book, or friendship, and seek with expectation nothing from anyone in my family save my parents.  I am not proud of this failure.  In fact it is something I am desperate to address.  But no matter how I address it, nothing can remove its stark reminder to me of the hypocrisy that my thoughts about the behavior of others represents.  So often for me, in my life, I could not see, until shame grabbed hold of me.  Luckily, I suppose, there has been no want for shame in this life.

Dream Dream Dream

Construction is best described by comparing it to what aborigines do when in need of shelter.

In the pre-modern world one simply built their house.  They built it, and the rain responded with a different path than through their hair, body and heat (and the entropic impossibility that that represents to the indifferent natural world.  Life vs. physics, a blockbuster with a very bad plot. As Robert Boyer would say, it would have been nice if both of the teams had arrived. And played a real game.)  

In the modern world we build.  And then they come.  To fix it and coax it alive to the imagination that created it and dreams it.  But the dream cannot be, in the real world, one that fits the scale of even one puny human life.  By the halfway point of my life expectancy our dreams of wood, will rot or be eaten.  And so our monuments to forever, will be unseen, and forgotten by the human imagination.  Inappropriate to the needs of even one life.

Enter the construction worker.  He looks, with the aid of the homeowners perspective.  And it is his choice by what lights he illuminates the path of the rain.  Should that self same rain not run through the hair of his client already, then a good deal of negotiation (read psychology, honesty, spirituality, and appraisal of needs for self and civic responsibility.)  should ensue, that in the best of all possible worlds would lead to a compromise.

Or disappointment.  To the customer.   Who wishes to hear that what goes up, shall remain there like the deep seated wishes of the ancients.  Sometimes for a thousand years.

You try telling them that the compromise, inherent in this process, is as enduring as any granite stone.  They will call you a poet.  And call a ready construction worker (promise maker) for the promises such a call should intimate.  In our world.  

Have fun.

Truth is that it is fun being a vulture.  The customer says that the side of their beloved garden shed has gone soft.  

You say, My Goodness, you are correct and I shall rid you of this chronologic of public and private scorn.  

You have lived among the rotten, but I will deliver new wood.  

Between you not a word is spoken as to the deliverer of the news that has reached you (the construction worker) of their predicament.  

They think it a possibly slothful response to siege.  You are only too glad to smile at the cruelty of life.  For you have awaited this passage of time as surely as they have dreaded it.

The evolutionary blah, blah, blahs are very happy.  Look how we work together in symbiosis.  Seemingly unaware agents of each others progress toward the common dream of... what?

These fools toil in the discipline that is their circumstance, knowing little of friendship and love.  An invisible hand, somehow a permanent fixture in the world they love more:  of mountains, stone, and trickling creeks that speak nothing in argument. 

Anyone can fly in the arms of Superman, to a crystal place of indifference.  Can make a case for the strange shrinking need of a people who before the sudden altitude of three thousand feet seemed as large as life.

How strange the woman, however, or man, who stops the great glass elevator to ask:  my God, man, how are you?  My God what can I do?

For some of us this response is a perversion of the path to our dreams.  And for others, I know not how many, the only manner by which they might ever have met a happiness.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Knew It!

Funny thing the way the mind works. Or is it the soul, stretched taught between the brain, and some strange dimension, timeless and unreadable to the living, but as vast as the certainty one feels about a great blue vaulted sky. Can you feel that? You know things sometimes not by looking at them and thinking, "This is a..." But rather, simply seeing, feeling, and knowing. You might complement such knowing with a curiosity, and then travel some roads of inquiry. Or not. Knowing can sate the heart and mind in one instance, and fill one's life with an insatiable desire the next. You've seen a leaf, after winter, its substance falling to shreds, and its veins, or vascular system, left over. I believe you have seen such a thing and just on the evidence of its beauty known something that almost can't be articulated. You might say the beauty of the leaf is in the novelty of its recognizable form. Recognizable but so different, just as my circulatory system, alone, and stripped of the rest of me, would look like me. There is also the mystery of what endures, and what does not. The bleached bones of the canine I found in a ditch on the highway spoke glancingly on the the essence of dog. What was missing was more than the bark. The expressive flesh of the animal twitching, and waiting, and wanting chase. The quiet, and stillness of the bones were not echoes of death to me, but stark contrast to the experience that "dog" means. And the bones were so very very beautiful. More beautiful to me, in some ways, then the dog. Though, I couldn't say I ever met the dog, as I'm sure the circumstances we found ourselves in that day, spell so well. But heres the thing. I have known something too, my whole life, about that leaf. It's flesh all gone, but its veins a net stretching to the limits of its species habit. It being my way, I have wondered about that leaf in the language that my creative side seems to crave. Just staring and staring. Just the posture of my gaze. Perhaps, somehow, it was not the leaf, but the feeling in the shape of my body as I sagged in a physical contemplation, upon encountering that net of veins. I was reading about lignin (as should not surprise you) and it hadn't really occurred to me, but this book was explaining that a plant requires in it's growth various things. Pretty obvious, don't we all. So it went on touching on the components of a cell wall, and how that cell wall needs to be able to absorb and purge water, so as not to have it's PH get wacky and muss up the rather astonishing chemistry that weeds aren't often credited by normal folks for performing. Sorry weeds. Good Job. So cell walls should be permeable (pretty much throughout all organisms, that seems to be the case.) That's good. Then the book discussed the structural needs of a plant, and advantages, and disadvantages enjoyed by various strategies employed by vascular plants. One way or another, a plant is going to seek uprightness (most of 'em) and to remain whole and undivided (all of them, though as gardeners know, above a certain limit, division doesn't kill certain plants.) Those two requirements require cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. All of them polymers. The first two are made of sugar. And lignin is made of alcohol. Why? Of course the alcohol is for all practical purposes made of sugar (in the cycle that produces it) but then again, all this stuff is made of CO2, and water, so what gives? None the less it is useful, should it be driving you crazy, to ask the question and wonder a bit about that list of polymers. They are after all the most abundant biological polymers on Earth (there is an order of magnitude more cellular material in bacteria in all the nooks and crannies of the globe and oceans, then there is plant "biomass". None the less, there is a mind mindboggling amount of cellulose and hemicellulose and lignin.) As the book was careful to point out (that apparently being its purpose in life) the structural needs of the plant are carried by all three polymers, but enforced by lignin. Lignin is simply enormously strong, as anyone who has left a one year old maple sapling in their yard over winter should discover when it comes time to pull it, or snap it, or thrash at it in desperation. That thin green plant flesh becomes something rather different when it goes "woody." Of course not all plants do. But all plants none the less need lignin. Why? The book explained that it comes down to the original thing that lignin evolved for. It wasn't it's stupendous strength, it is thought by people who look into these things, that lignin developed for. It was its fear of water. Hydrophobia. That's why I brought up the cells permeable walls earlier. Plants, it turns out, just like any complex system, need some permeable barriers, some semipermeable barriers, and some completely impermeable barriers. It's sorta hard to get a few drops of water evenly distributed through a sponge, to say nothing of the soap you dissolve in that water. To completely saturate a hydrophilic substance, you need a fair amount of water, and you need to be extremely chilled out about the rate at which that water permeates the substance, and the stuff that water may or may not distribute throughout your "sponge." As plants were developing from their single cellular origins they in all likelihood encountered this problem of a plant cell's inherent water love. One cell has no way outside of the dictates of its own survival and it's probable programming to share what wealth there is to share, to help distribute nutrients and water to the far off regions of a blob of unvascularized plant. A highway or road, or pipe if you will, for water was needed for the plant to provide all of its cells a gentle bath of H20 and nutrients. But what would you make such a pipe out of? Plants are mostly cellulose, as the word surely hints at in it's name. Cellulose is really a kind of jelly that is made and laid down in a sort of composite manner by plants (many aspects of organism physiology have this "composite" approach. Your teeth are made within your gums by your body laying down a protein net, then slowly secreting onto that net chemical attracted to the protein, which then folds itself and catalyzes the chemical into the mineralized product you and I call tooth. This vast simplification of the process was a marvelous thing for me to learn, and is an example of composite structure in the natural world of my mouth. It is similar, those vastly more complex, to the manufacture of fiberglass or carbon fiber, both composites themselves. Look to biology to one day be manufacturing all those materials, better and with zero VOC's. Another thing, that protein matrix your body lays down for your teeth to mineralize around is what you smell "burning" when you get your teeth drilled. Yikes!) So cellulose is a sort of woven composite in plants, by which they get their bulk to a great extent. And as anyone who ever cut a tree down knows, cellulose likes its water a great deal. Lots and lots of water. But, cellulose could at best only make a soaker hose. And what water it wicks it wicks entirely dictated by salinity, osmotic pressure. Which isn't always taking the plants water where it needs to go. This is why lignin came along. Plants developed lignin (it is thought) as a water repelling substance that the chemistry of a plant could produce, and that when it made a tube, water could travel heedless of the thirsty cellulose surrounding the tube of lignin. These tubes of lignin could stretch to every cell in the plant, and such vascularization gave rise to all manner of unexpected gifts in the plant world. As the plant matured year after year it left ring after ring of lignin pipes around itself, and a funny thing started to happen: the plants stopped falling down in winter. Or during the dry season. Some plants just kept growing ring after ring after ring and before long, all those tubes, with cellulose cells dried out and dead between them amounted to something we human beings would never have gotten where we are (or lived the lives we live) without: WOOD! So lignin, along with the increase in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, provided plants an entirely new habitat of of the breezy skies. And entirely novel lifespans for organisms, sometimes reaching 1000 years, for a single set of DNA. Go ahead and try that yourself. By the way, it is worth mentioning here that I am going to write some time about what I learned three years ago when I took some time to study a Biology textbook my cousin Dr. Heather Greist gave me. One of the secrets of long life in trees is their incredibly slow metabolism, despite their enormously large output of work. Such a circumstance seems a contradiction until you look at how plants TRANSPIRE, or draw water from their roots to their leaves and straight out into the atmosphere. I'll give you a hint: a tree may conservatively pull six hundred gallons of water through its roots every couple of hours, and breathe out all that moisture on a hot, sunny "humid" day.That's 4800 pounds of weight atomized into the atmosphere. Try it some time, you will fail in ten days to achieve that with the solemnity of a tree. But the tree doesn't pump the water itself at all. It transpires it. And I didn't know what that was until 2006. One of my dreams is to make a gigantic Gym sized model of a leaf's stomata (air sack which regulates this tendency to transpire or not by opening and closing pores on the underside of a leaf.) The idea that ten year olds could be walking around with this profound appreciation of how tricked out plants are, just fills me with so much pleasure. But the truth is, you knew all this before. All this lignin and cellulose stuff. Just by looking at that leaf. You knew that some of the leaf was gone, the soft and chewy and moist food of the leaf. The sort of meal the toothless require. And you knew what was left, like the bones of a dead canine, was enduring, and continued long after death to speak of the nature of it's parents species. The shape of the Maple leaf remained, in a cascading set of subtle branches. From the visible down to smaller than visible with your eye, the leaf sat there before you, like the horizon six inches square. Beckoning not toward reckoning but whispering with the confident look of a beaming child: this is the reason I am.

How To Bleed A Book

Call me crazy, but, I hate getting letters from wack jobs who troll the world looking for suckers.  I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that one day I would suffer what I have watched my parents suffer my entire life:  everyone wanting their piece of them.  But then, there is something particularly vexing when the wack job is pretending to merely be a vessel of higher calling, overflowing and splashing onto my computer screen.  Washing my feet? I'd like to wring my socks out over the heads of these invisible ding dongs.

The other day I got a comment on a chapter of this blog.  You can read it.  It's one chapter back.  The point is that the comment was from some so called "non profit" started by Mortimer Adler and asking for donations in trade for a DVD of Adler being interviewed about How To Read A Book.  

When algae grows in some cool wet spot in the out of doors I often find it inspiring, worth noticing how opportunistic it is.  It doesn't bother me in the least.

For some reason slimy wack jobs don't do the same thing for me.

I thought about responding in a very non thoughtful manner to the commercial intrusion on this utterly uncommercial blog (notice? no ads?  why the hell would I want an ad for thigh cream on my blog?  I'm sure I'll fall victim to the disease on day, but not any time soon.)

Anyhow, you'd think the IRS would look into the not for profit status of an organization trolling the Internet in Mortimer Adlers name.

Give all your money away when you die, and don't let paid administrators reanimate "the creature" of your memory, just because they can.  

Just a thought.

Fatherly Vente's

I was going to write tonight more about How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand, but a magical thing happened.

The last (I have been calling them entries, but I feel that to be a stupid term, so for now on I will use the word...) chapter I wrote about William Least Heat Moon.  A highly admirable, though somewhat colorful companion in the world of his books.  I love his books.  I kissed Blue Highways when I finished it at seventeen.  It spoke of the life I dared not dream of even in the doting household of my parents (they were not fans of controlling the imagination of their children, though I certainly got in the way of their most expansive efforts to free me from the world.) 

 The thing about Blue Highways, now not my favorite book of his, was that it was utterly lucid.  A guy. His van. The highway.  At seventeen even, I knew there wasn't much I was missing in that beyond the obvious impossible experiences of a marriage and adulthood.  He met people as I do.  He simply assumed they had something to say. I have that habit as well.  It was empowering to see what happens when the narratives that middle class society regards as secondary to the "main things" of life make way for the secret yearnings of the people of the world.  Since Blue Highways I have traveled and have had the same experience.  To this day, many people, when I talk about my experiences, wish to know, "But Andy, what is concrete that you can say about such categories of experience?"  Such questions are well meaning, even loving, but really, the product of a world that needs you to not accept your liberty.  We are all too happy to take such confidence as wisdom, instead of the con that it shares an etymology with.

Don't get me wrong, this is not the valley of the shadow of death by any means.  Just a note to one's self:  people expect you to care less.  Not more, or equivalent to a friend.  And you, by the same token, wish you could care more (or have it realized that you do) and experience the folks you encounter, even marginally, as true members of the same civic club.

So what was magical?

This evening I finished my duties to my family after work, and the rain being what it was, felt no great pressure to pretend the garden needed me, so went and glanced at some materials for my parents, who may return to Indiana, from New Mexico.  The "materials" were books about an Indiana that they might enjoy, different from the one they grew up in, and lived amongst before they made the fantastic decision to relocate to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Albuquerque.

I have always had a probably puerile (I got the word from Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore) interest in my home state, Indiana.  It is hard for people who know where the real things happen in the world to understand my sentiment.  Or rather, they understand it to be exactly that, sentiment.  This subtle put down, is water off a ducks back.  The last thing I want is my home to be "discovered" by a bunch of people who suddenly take to our well watered mild climate, and incredibly inexpensive, and easily maneuvered rat race.  My life then, would become, more conventional, less free.  I share my ecstatic feelings about this state to a small number, and count on the mandate for "success" in others to leave me wide swath in my town to find my "fortune."

This evening I had finished with the minutiae in my life, and wanted to settle down to the cooing of the muses, and write something for eternity, or at least, the remainder of my life, about what turns me on, today.

The subject I wanted to write about was a new book called Mannahatta.  I had glanced at it, while at lunch today, and it is so very much the promise of the interdisciplinary habit of more and more scholars these days, that it represented for me a number of new strata reached, on this great empirical terrace that is knowledge and understanding from our narrow view of the universe.  

For one thing, when glancing through the book (I haven't read it) you see these two page spreads, from time to time, one half (the page on the left) a rendition of Manhattan Island around 1609, and the other half a modern photo, to match.  While the rendition, clearly is a computer simulation, informed by GIS (geographical information systems), seeing the spread in its entirety gave me a novel sensation, if not inspiration.  This was one of the first times I had seen computer graphics utilized where the computer graphics seemed more real and pertinent to the questions of my mind then the real world right next to it.

I am something of a fan of the trade magazines of the special effects industry.  Ever since I was a child I have loved the idea of fantasy being brought to life.  As I grew older I imagined the other things that "virtual worlds" through special effects might bring me: culturally, informatively, even morally.  I had a wonderful argument with a friend, just after I came to Bloomington eleven years ago, where I argued that "virtual reality" would one day bring the experience of the oppressed so close to our conceptual doorstep that we would not be able to hide from it in our leafy Tree City USA hamlets, as if we could not touch upon such an experience. 

In fairness, my friend, who will go unmentioned, was a BIG moral compass in my late adolescence, and I had failed him time and again by living my own personal version of life, quite apart from his understanding, and to his and my families great worry.  He had by then come to expect my "visions of grandeur," and since he had worked with mentally ill people for a few years by then, was privately concerned about my probable category of mental fitness.  Between our childhood and that moment I had not proven myself resilient to the stresses of life especially to convince him of any outlandish argument I might make.  With people who did not know me so well, I found a different audience for such things.  And different lives to assimilate through my ears and heart.  What a wonderful era that was for me.  These "strangers" saved my life in ways my family and friends had tried to for years.  One word: Bloomington.

He may be right.  Perhaps the stories of people that we find more and more of in our world, so connected, mean much less than I was arguing.  But I couldn't retract the smile that went across my face in the Kendalliville, IN, library I found myself in one autumn morning, having traveled there to visit my Grandparents; the town from which my parents sprung.  I was playing a little Least Heat Moon myself (I'm sure I imagined) and trolling the microfiche of the local newspaper that my dad had delivered as a child.  What I was looking for was news of family members, my mothers side, and my dad's.  I found, on my very first attempt, guessing at the date, August 20, 1955, an ad from my namesake, my Grandfather Coffey.  He was an entrepreneur in cars, and his company was called "George A. Coffey Inc."  I couldn't believe my luck, so quickly into my inquiry.  A library has always been a thing of power to me. But that day it seemed a predator upon ignorance of my own self, and the history of my beloved.  Not bad, brick and mortar.  

This was not long ago.  It was in fact the autumn of Katrina, which was somewhat on my mind as well.  So wouldn't you know if a storm was in the paper I was enjoying my Grandfather's ad in as well.  A storm, in 1955, that devastated New Orleans.  Perhaps not as badly as Katrina, but then, maybe it did.  How could one know?  The Nineth Ward even then was a black community, with the same families so recently destroyed.  It makes me want to Google it now.  I think I will: (be right back. I promise I will hurry...)  OK. So, according to Wikipedia, Hurricane Brenda (my mothers name) did some damage to New Orleans and killed a few people in Alabama.  The newspaper, perhaps predictably, made it sound a little worse.  Good for them.  

Nowadays 200,000 people can die of TB, and Swine Flu's death toll of a dozen is the news.  So a place for everything and EVERYTHING in its place.

I couldn't help but smile for the strange shrinkage of the world ala Walt Disney's famous ride.  I didn't need a reminder. Here was my Grandfather (and a few details, I wish I found more, of my other Grandfather, Grandpa Wilondek,  who passed away this last January.  He was the police chief of Kendallville for a long while.  I will go back (or goto another archives, apparently in IU's library)) and here was a storm, apropos of something, before my eyes. It made me smile.  

The world tells stories it feels will be heard.

Me too.

So tonight what happened that was magical?

I was embarrassed to be going to Starbucks, which I had promised myself to avoid, due to the pathetic entry it represented on my checking account register (annoyingly computerized.)  I used to spend a hundred dollars plus, per month, on coffee.  Enough said. I have had girlfriends wake me up with coffee from a Starbucks (or thank God, more likely, local place) with a smile on their face like they had just bought me twelve virgins.  In the morning, when I rise, give me coffee, what can I say?

Well this evening, I felt the same, so I went to Starbucks, and quelled my disquiet with the promise that I would be writing, on the parabolic energetics of even the caffeine free version of my morning sin.  Surely something prosaic would come of the twenty ounces we Americans have learned (despite years of the French telling us how to say it for real in metric terminology) to call Vente.  

One young man approached me, and asked, "Can I help you?"

My answer was that I needed a decaf Vente.

He demurred that the decaf was gone for the day.  But would I like to wait for another brewing, or he could make a four shot Americano espresso drink?  

As a baker, for years, I had had run of an espresso machine at three in the the morning.  Nobody was looking, so back then I had translated my cigarette habit of years past, to an outrageous seven shot pull before my shift to the Gram Parsons that I listened to in those days.  So just about when Gram and Emmylou began to sweep out the ashes in the morning, I was getting lit on seven shots of heaven, and my answer to the Barista at Starbucks, was, "Yes, that will do."

Over the course of the espresso brewing I had indicated, somehow, that I was writing that evening, and intended to stay up pretty late.  The Barista, a charming man, who seemed to know how to keep the customers comfortable, indicated that he felt that was pretty cool, but I felt none the less a need to explain my paint stained carpenters pants and generalized lack of interest in being perceived as a person who presumed to be a "writer."  So I told him I was actually a carpenter, or contractor, whichever he might prefer.

He lit up a bit and presumed, "You like to work with your hands?"

I admitted that I wished more people did, as I found it enormously satisfying.

He told me, "You know, my dad is a bookbinder."

I asked him, "You mean the guy at eleventh and College?" a place that I had annoyed with my questions and inquiry many times.

"No," he said, "my father works at the Lilly Library."

"My God," I said, "your dad is a stud."

He explained that his father in fact was in charge of the Jack Kerouac scroll, which as I have explained above was a fantastic part of my life living in Bloomington.  I tried not to scare the poor guy, but mentioned as casually as I might, that William Least Heat Moon, in all probability interviewed his dad.  He seemed, as should surely be the case in the domestic world, surprised that his father would have touched upon something timeless to another.

I assured him, that merely asking his dad would provide an answer.

To his credit, he wrote down the name "William Least Heat Moon" and I left with my delicious Vente, wondering, is that guy really related to the dude I read about in Heat Moon's latest book?  

When I got home I looked up his fathers delicious last name, mixed with Heat Moon, on Google: "Canary Heat Moon" to wit.  The answer could not have been more discreet and obvious.  I knew that the answer was likely to be found in the text of The Road To Quoz.

It sure was.

Mr. Canary is in fact a stud.

So I found his Email address, and wrote him an ode to his son.  I might have mentioned the fact that his son found reason to mention him in an admiring fashion to the general public.

Least Heat Moon has powers still to touch me, I guess.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Least Among Us

I told my parents, but pretty much no one else, that I was a bit disappointed in William Least Heat-Moon.  While reading River Horse, (his oddly similar voyage, but basically profoundly dissimilar to Lewis and Clark, across our country by its riparian roads), I got tired of the  seemingly phlegmatic railing that didn't seem attached to any particular beef.  I loved the book.  Even as a fairly liberal guy, I love this country, consider her land something of a mistress, and want to feel kinship with this soulful writer.  Thousands of people will tell you they do.  He's a bestseller for crying out loud.  Something of a travel narrative rock star.  

So Heat Moon, travels across America via various rivers, starting in New York harbor (he is where this untraveled (to New York) Hoosier learned that the East River was actually a tidal strait, connecting Long Island Sound to New York Bay; salt water, not a river in any sense whatsoever.  More on that later.)  He goes down all these rivers with different names and stops in little towns along the way.  He passes Native American mounds (which Indiana is rich with, we have a State Park called, "Mounds", lest you be confused what's going on there), which turn out to be more mysterious than you ever imagine (which is why you read this guy.)  And every night, like the deepest dreams that falter when your eyes awake to the day, he stops in some hamlet, to drink beer and carry on with the locals.  Secure in the knowledge, that should someone ask, he is there for a reason.

Sounds pretty great doesn't it?  He complains about things more than is necessary.  Usually it is cloaked in a bit of anti-right wing (phonies, would say Mr. Caufield) rhetoric, but it is whining none the less.  And of course there is that little issue that someone my family knows had reason to regard him as a bit of a womanizer.  I don't know. He is a great writer.  Some of his stupid tricks like having someone come along with him, whom he calls a nickname, and never really reveals, makes him seem like he's never been in therapy.  Then again...  maybe he never has.  And in that case, my gosh, he is merely a character and raconteur with which to share that beer, and the blessings he's experienced should be understood to not outweigh the abuses he suffers beneath.  On the river.  At the bar.

Basically I love the guy, but was having issues with him.  Then he had a new book come out with a title that seemed to be taunting my worst insecurities about my admiration of him.  The title of the book was, Roads To Quoz: an American Mosey.  It's like Lewis Carroll had got ahold of him, and said, "It doesn't end with Jabberwocky! Got it, kid?"

I don't know what Roads To Quoz is about, exactly. I sort of breezed through its index (something more people should consider, when looking at a book.  For example: have you ever had to index a book yourself?  The philosophy behind it, and the practice that glancing at an index would suggest to you, are to rather separate matters.  Indexing is hard work, and to the good author and editor (though they realize most people could care less (unless)) should cause more than a little consternation about all those old questions that caused the entire enterprise in the first place.)  What I found in the index made me warm to the book considerably.  

Somewhere in the index (perhaps in the "B's"?) it said, "Bloomington, Kerouac pg ###. "  I thought to myself, could Road To Quoz be a PrariErth of my home state, or county or town??  That would be beyond my wildest dreams.  So good, it would hurt.  I love that deep map of Chase County, Kansas.  When I read it the second time (Mortimer Adler might say, the first) I kept a book mark of the State of Kansas in the book, and another of Chase county.  It is one of my dreams to go there and dick around.  With notes I took from the book.  That was Heat Moon at his best.  You could tell he was trying something different and a little scared or something.  A little lost.  In the realm he remembered from the failures of his past.  It made his writing want to stick to something more important than right wingers.  I'm sure the right wingers slipped off his prose in editing, in any case, but you get my drift.

Turns out the section that he did in Road to Quoz, was a whimsy concerning the original Jack Kerouac scroll that Jim Irsey, owner  of the Indianapolis Colts, had purchased, and insisted on housing for a period at Lilly Library, Indiana University, and then touring it.  I don't know if Irsey came up with the idea himself, or if one of his many advisors (or the estate of Jack) suggested it, but chances are I never would have read Jack's scroll were it not for the fact that it was so intelligently displayed (curated?) and continuously turned, each week, through the (I think) entirety of the scroll.  Did I go every week.  Of course not.  But I went a bunch.  Lilly Library is typical of the monastic tradition of knowledge hoarding.  It isn't greed, due to that fact that cultural entropy destroys what is not protected with nearly martial measures.  The building (and even it's satellite warehouses) is small, and over shadowed by tulip poplars and other hardwoods native to my beloved home, but its purpose goes so far beyond the cliche of making a difference, it nearly seems indifferent to the concept whatsoever.  

So Heat Moon, probably unchanged by his trip to Bloomington, changed me nonetheless by placing yet more armor over my Achilles heel:  this deep sentiment I have for the Ohio River Valley, and near desperation I feel to make a case for flyover country (if only to chill my own self out.)  Thanks William Least Heat Moon.  And cheers, and thanks to you even if it exhausts you.


Stewert Brand writes in How Buildings Learn:

Santa Fe Style.  America's oldest public building, the adobe Palace of the Governors (1610) on the Santa Fe plaza, was the fist expression of the city's determination to redesign itself as a tourist town.  One of the devisers of the architectural Indian-Spanish-Anglo amalgam called Santa Fe style was archaeologist Jesse Nusbaum.  From 1909 to 1913 he remodeled the portal of the Palace backward past its Victorian and Territorial periods to an imaginary colonial look.  The result was one of the four or five New Mexico buildings most influential as a model for thousands of Santa Fe style buildings.  

I'd sorta heard that before about Santa Fe in general, but there is more.  

He writes:

Spanish explorers arrived in the area in 1540 and began colonizing in 1598 (twenty-two years before the Mayflower Pilgrims) with an architecture somewhat similar to the Indian pueblos based on the traditional Mediterranean courtyard house--masonry, flat-roofed, with small general-purpose rooms added casually.  

The indians eventually modified this to their tastes, and added the Spanish fogon's and (beehive) horno.  The Spanish curtsied to these honors by situating their houses in shape and directionally more to the Indian tradition.  A few hundred years would go by.  Not many other Europeans were winding this way.  Lewis and Clark (who didn't even come close to Santa Fe) wouldn't begin to open the West for 150 to 180 years.  

Anglos came down the Santa Fe trail eventually and in 1879 the Atchinson Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad brought the rest of the story.

Mr. Brand also shows the evolution of the Zuni Pueblo closer to where my parents reside (the Pueblo is 153 miles West of Albuquerque.)  Picture after picture of the Pueblo accepting the forms and contrivances of Western Architecture (like a door at the ground level.  The Pueblo was a fortress with ladders leading to its various terraces, giving the enemy the classic problem of being low and exposed.  The fact that the Pueblo remains, says something to me about it's intentions in design. How 'bout you?)  Just wicked to see those pictures.  I didn't see any ladders left in the 1992 picture, though, since the Pueblo had conceded to the brilliant qualities of a pitched roof at around 1950, even a safe ladder after that would have led to bad footing up top.  Or maybe the ladders fell apart and the youngsters lost interest.  I don't know.

Then there is this passage which I am uncomfortable with because I have enjoyed just what he seems to be mocking:

WHO'S FIREPLACE is it?  Anglos call it a "kiva fireplace" and put several in every Santa Fe style building, carefully burning pinon firewood upright inn the approved local manner.  The name shows that Indians are considered chic and Spanish not so chic, because the built in corner fireplace is in fact Spanish and is called a fogon.  The Indians picked it up from the Spanish colonists.  They never did put any in the kivas (cermonial clan rooms)-- that would have been too much of a cultural trespass.

Alright Mr. Brand, but really now... have you never been warmed by one?  Liar.

I don't mean to give Mr. Brand too much shit, 'cus I really like his incredible book.  Besides he doesn't truly throw too many stones given he was responsible for The Whole Earth Catalog, a palimpsest of truly confused cultural identity.  Will it be the Tepee, or the coke bottle mudhouse, my dear?  Perhaps we'll have our wedding with Native Americans and find ecstasy between buffalo (or perhaps their skin alone?)  I suppose he merely found the whole evolution of Santa Fe Style fascinating.  And it fits right in with his philosophy of utilizing in architecture the famed pattern languages that have accreted over time in traditional buildings, among most cultures.  It's the modern stuff that seeks to make a monument, of the motley manor.  'Course that sometimes happened in the perfect past, if you have to ask.

Even Gold Don't Glitter For The Wise Man

Remember that episode of the Twilight Zone where a bunch of geniuses who couldn't go straight (and one or two henchmen) robbed a railcar and made off to a cave.  Rod Serling's genius has to be the way he turns a multi dimensional story into a one room schoolhouse of a fable.  All this stuff is happening outside the cave you find yourself in with these criminals.  The criminals in the manner of all agents of exposition tell you, "So, I guess this is it.  We're all gonna sleep for a real long time now.  How we supposed ta know this ain't gonna just kill us?"  These guys are smarter than they look (the ones talking, who are henchmen, that is...)  

The mad geniuses conform to the pedigree well enough.  Their experiment will work better than the dummies think.  And will work perfectly for the devices of the story.

As was the case in another of Serling's utterly goofy masterpieces, Planet of the Apes, after a lengthy sleep, one of the nonsonambulents never gets ambulent again.  I guess it was too clever a hook to give up.

But most of the dudes make it, and they aren't really sure whether a bunch of time has passed  (outside of their partially decomposed friend.) and, of course, neither are you.

The rest of the story is as old as the hills and provides all the pleasures of an Aesop fable of greed.  All of the men have designs on all the gold, and in proper tadpole fashion begin to do away with each other in great haste.  As their numbers dwindle, each man gradually becomes more reliant on the other, and once one of them crashes a car into another, destroying the vehicle (or maybe on shoots the vehicle, I can't remember.  Does it matter?)  then the remaining two men are entirely reliant on each other, but in another sense, each is also just along for the ride: with their Gold, and according to the rather barren dictates of a desert highway.  It's not exactly choose your own adventure.

By and by one man gulps his water (someone always does) but his comfort turns to desperation as the desert finds that water, and pounds down the heat.  Eventually the foolish jerk begins to realize he ain't gonna make it, and desperately asks his "companero" to have mercy on him.  For a bar of Gold, his friend shares a little liquid of life.  They go on like this whilst walking ten or twelve miles.  

Finally, the seeming fool who must pay for every drop clocks his friend on the head with something heavy (I think it was a bar of Gold) and gets the tastiest drink I think he's ever had.  

More sun, more desperation.  Now our hero is carrying nearly all the Gold, except for what he can't carry.  Before long he's dropping bars, and not much after that, he drops to the ground himself.  Addled by sun, and burdened by the strange serendipity of a victory in a vacuum of culture in which to celebrate it, our King of the Hill, is starting to finally die.

As our hero babbles to himself on the side of the rode, a strangely fanciful, and obviously futuristic car pulls up, with a couple, clearly aping the styles of the Fifties (in the year 1999), at the wheel. How retro!   The pipe smoking mad hep gentleman gets out of his outrageous ride and strides over to our hero, spouting gibberish on the side of the road.  Our hero begins to die, just then, and says a bunch of stuff that we vaguely can imagine a having to do with the story we just saw, but the gentleman clearly is bewildered about.  "Gold," is the last word, of the hero's death gasps, and as the gentleman stands up, he grasps the bar from our hero's hand, and walks to his Millenial Camaro.  

"What is it," says his wife, in a voice that I've never heard a live person use in my life.  

"I don't know," says her master of certitude.  "It's strange, he's making no sense.  And he says this is Gold..."

"Well, Gold...," says his alluring companion, "didn't that used to be extremely valuable?"

"Yes, " smiled the hep cat, giving the bullion one last glance, and throwing it out the Millenial Camaro's window, "I suppose it was."

Then Rod Serling would say something clever and wise.  

I learned years ago that, in a similar vein, Aluminum, also had it's day with the rich and famous, until today, when, it became just another component of our trash.

From Wikipedia, to wit:

Before the Hall-Héroult process was developed, aluminium was exceedingly difficult to extract from its various ores. This made pure aluminium more valuable than gold. Bars of aluminium were exhibited alongside the French crown jewels at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, and Napoleon III was said to have reserved a set of aluminium dinner plates for his most honoured guests.

Aluminium was selected as the material to be used for the apex of the Washington Monument in 1884, a time when one ounce (30 grams) cost the daily wage of a common worker on the project;[31] aluminium was about the same value as silver.

You might consider alerting the bag ladies of your neck of the woods, of this rather Antiques Roadshowey fact.  Should you just say, "Hello, in there..." they may very well slap you in the face.  Be careful.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Than A Solution To Me

Had a great day.  Spent this morning with a group like Habitat for Humanity, put on by my church and a bunch of other churches to assist in the rebuilding of the most affected areas in southern Indiana, after last years flood of the century.  It was instructive to receive last week, a hard rain for over twenty four hours (thunderstorms the entire time, but an hour here and there) and have that mean nothing to the regions safety, due to the fact that the thunderstorms were mostly confined to southern Indiana, not the entire Midwest.  What seems like big weather, can sometimes just be severe weather.  Not something I had ever thought about.

A few years back, the electrical system in my car was out for a few months.  I worked at a hotel down the street from my house.  My method of getting to work was to shower in the morning, put on my laundered slacks, button down shirt, and a tie and shoes, then fall onto a bicycle, go downhill for three quarters a mile, then go north two blocks to arrive in about six or seven minutes at work.  It is an indisputable fact that I frequently drive more slowly than that.  The risk to other peoples lives is obviously much more, when I am driving a truck, or car, than a bike.  The opposite holds true for riding the bike.  It is dangerous.  I however, am a somewhat safer bicyclist then many, angry weirdos who seem to regard it as a cross to bear, that they share a road with cars.  I sometimes want to remind them (but rarely bother) that no society in history has found pavement a useful response to the needs of a cyclist.  Roads are built for cars.  And most of the time, the victims of the road are cars drivers, not cyclists.  

A cyclist that pulls to the front of traffic at an intersection, merely because they can fit between a car and the curb, is defining the space they think a motorist should proffer to them.  To do that over and over, as I have seen basically everyone riding a bike do, is to work precisely with the proven difficulty motorists have seeing (anything! but also) cyclists.  It is a moral responsibility of bicyclists to maintain their place in slow moving traffic, and grind their axes at the gym, where physics has more friendly loads to toss.  Stop with traffic, it helps the cars that have nothing to look at anyway but your handsome rear end, realize that you believe yourself to be merely another vehicle.

Most people I know regard this philosophy as hopelessly naive and wimpy.  Funny, the number of people I know who have had terrifying encounters with vehicles. "I've been hit by a car twice," as if a car were a shark.  It goes without saying that it is very unlikely that you will ever hear someone say, "I have no idea if I hit the car, or the car hit me."  

 You ought to be fined as a cyclist, for verifiable evidence that you are not acting like a vehicle on the road, since it is absolutely true, that all the rules of Indiana motor vehicle law apply to a cyclist.

Liberty, it would seem, does not conform to these commonsensical notions.  More people die for freedom, then I sometimes realize.

I mention all this, because, despite my high minded attitude to the relationship I have on a bike with cars, I still tear around, on occasion, with my bike.  You can't help yourself sometimes.  Just avoid heavy traffic, and blind intersections.

In any case, I was on my way to work during the storm, a few years ago, that happened just before Katrina.  The downpour was immense, and unexpected.  I'm sure it was reported, but I had ignored it.  So, I was riding my bike down this pretty steep grade, and because of some blind intersections and the fact I was running close to being late (and the rain) I turned onto second street, went two blocks and cut west again, this time straight down, practically on top of the hotel.  Smith, there, is enormously steep.  The thing that bewildered me, at the time, was the fact that the water on Smith, was nearly to the top of my twenty something inch tires.  More than a foot and a half of water was running down this practically twenty degree grade.  It didn't seem possible for water to be that deep. I had no brakes to speak of (of course, they were beyond wet.) but none the less wasn't going so fast due to the rather enduring puddle that softened my descent.  No big deal, I just glided slowly to the hotel.  I was on that street, remember, because it was usually more safe, due to the fact that motorists hate how bumpy and unnavigable it can be for anything wider than a baby stroller.  It was one of the strangest, and sort of magical feelings I ever had on a bike.  When I got to the hotel, I spelled the same old Andy to my coworkers.  When I left them to do my job, I'm sure their response was, "Did he think we couldn't hear the thunder?  Yeah, it rained!  Ever heard of a forecast."  Not everybody is ready for everyday magic.  At least from a third party.

The other magical bike rides I have had were mostly (in my adult life that is.  My parents and my brother and I had plenty of good rides together, and jesus, I biked Cape Cod in middle school with my summer camp.  That probably qualifies as nice...) with my old friend Mitch.  Mitch was the guy that planted the seed of seeing a watershed in the map of ones home that is in your mind, instead of the more real seeming somatic map of sensory impressions that we regard as the world we move through.  We cross a river and regard it's green sign/label as somehow of relative significance to the ribbon of water (or dry bed, as it were) itself.  This had more often than not been for me the case because I have, native to my nature, a relatively poor sense of direction and spatial reckoning.  I am better than I once was, but still can be caught by friends whom I really love and trust as taking more pleasure in them than getting us where we are supposed to be going.  I get lost at times.  So suffice it to say that in the past, when I passed a river, it's name is all the ribbon of water meant to me.  I usually would sort of glance at the water, perhaps admiring the potency that such landscapes deserve in the imagination, but where it came from, and where it was going, and from where it collected the rain, I didn't even dare to consider.  

Mitch had a slightly different attitude.  Having been a sort of laid back polymath artisan his whole life.  He played some music, and built stone walls (while still young) and made beer and had a family, and just sort of enjoyed the spectacle of life's passing.  And absorbed a hell of a lot of information from various sources, which, sometimes, while I was shaking my head at some strange thing he had done or said, he would come out with.  We'd be on a street and he was leading that day, on our almost daily bike rides (sometimes at night, as well.)  We'd pass a river and he'd describe the damn things travel through the entirety of our town.  Back then I didn't know our town nearly as well (and our area even less.)  His laconic enlightening of the slow flow of waters we had just crossed changed my dismissal of parsing what goes in my eyes from hopeless, to very very interesting. My God, I thought, mankind isn't making that river, but just respecting it by avoidance, or a high bridge, or sometimes a rueful admission with a backhoe that a house has to go.  The river.  The river took it.  The river gives, and the river takes away.

I paid closer attention, more respectful attention from then on to bodies of water in general, and rivers in particular.  Mitch's example, in part, along with a DVD on the subject, led me to the ultimate historic story of American rivers:  Lewis and Clark's Voyage of Discovery.   They certainly were somewhat interested in where the bodies of water would lead.  Just a bit.

And so, "courage undaunted" as Jefferson wrote in informal elegy of Merriwether Lewis, a few years after Lewis killed himself, would certainly not describe my cottoning to rivers as a subject.  But last year, right around the time I decided to nip the whole question of "what is clay in my garden?", I took a concurrent voyage of discovery in the form of a set of books that would cost me (if I purchased them for myself) a couple thousand dollars.  The set of books are simply called, The Rivers Of The World.  I ignored most of the books and settled on the rivers of the Ohio River Valley, my probable home for life.  The Rivers Of The World is so cool, for it would describe by turns prosaic, then poetic, then prosaic, then idealistic, then prosaic, then poetic.... rivers and their burden of kinesis----- movement, and what that movement drags inexorably toward us, since we are always near a watershed.  

The Rivers Of The World described the whole of a watershed that fed a river.  Wikipedia has adopted, to my delight, this graphic description (and convention my exgirlfriend, Katherine, a Geographer, tells me is "geographic") of shading a map to show a rivers watershed.  It is hardly obvious, without a contour map.  And contour maps are extremely hard for untrained folks to read.  I haven't tried to read one carefully in six or seven years.  And that was six or seven years after my previous bout of training.  I cannot read one very well.  Shading the watershed of a river, provided it is based on a geographic information systems careful data set, is a brilliant way to provide an extremely complex problem, a tangible, digestible, and quickly useful solution.  Thanks to the Geographers whose grandparents might not have been bragging on their choice of a career.  

The Rivers Of The World also described a little of the habitat, fish species, plant life, and other flora and fauna that a given river might be blessed or burdened with.  This was shocking to me (you must think I am easily startled)  since I had no idea how bristling with life, and resilience many of our most polluted rivers are.  The quantity of fish is nothing like it was before settlement a few hundred years ago.  But it is very large, none the less.  And the diversity of rivers is growing, and encouraging more work, like that which led to these inroads in the ecological health of our rivers.  

I learned a new word from the books as well:  riparian.  I had heard this word and never looked it up, but it means of, or having to do with a river system.  As a teacher might say, "this variety of grass will only be found in riparian habitats."  It doesn't grow away from rivers.  

Typical of my brain I went to look this word up in the dictionary on my computer (something either very useful to my writing, or painful to my ego.  I am extremely thrilled that the dictionary isn't keeping a tally of how many words I look up every few days.  It is something like fifty.)  I entered into the dictionary, since I could not remember the word I learned (so did I learn it?), "river."  The Thesaurus "function" on the dictionary, said,


1 the old factories along the river  WATERCOURSE, waterway, tributary, stream, rivulet, brook, inlet, rill, runnel, freshet, bourn, creek.

2 a river of molten lava STREAM, torrent, flood, deluge, cascade.

But, then I saw, above the thesaurus entry the word I learned last summer at the Herman B. Well's Library.  


Middle English:  from Anglo-Norman French, based on Latin riparius, from ripa "bank of a river."  

'Bout rippa'd me a new one.  

Now I don't mean to be hard on dictionaries.  I realize the constantly have to please a set of people that the rest of us live lives steadfastly avoiding.... however:  why, rill, runnel, freshet, bourn, flood, and deluge.  But no riparian.  ???  The word most closely associated with the origin of "river" is somehow not a synonym?  

I told my parents about a story involving an organization I had read today.  This organization was so organized that it had a system for everything.  So once upon a time it found out it didn't have a very expensive solution to a very annoying problem.  The problem had to fixed anyhow, so one of the investigators just off the cuff asked the organizations equivalent to the janitor if he might know, just had to ask, where some other solution might be hidden.  The janitor looked at the inquisitor amazed;  "I was wondering when you were going to ask," he said.  This very old organization had had in place, a hidden solution to the big problem for five hundred years.  Every janitor during that entire time had been told, "don't screw with that thing, it's THE SOLUTION, to such and such problem."  Hundreds of years pass.  Janitors are born and janitors die.  Finally, a janitor is asked, "Say, don't know why I am even asking you, but, ever heard of "THE SOLUTION?" 

There's a Christian song that my seventeen year old girlfriend used to sing, when I went to church with her (in front of the whole church.)  It was by no means a hymn, but rather a sort of radio ready Christian song the likes of Sandy Patty or some other such person would croon.  It''s punchline?  "My precious Jesus is more than an heirloom to me."  Which, was not only a sort of pathologically inaccurate description of exactly what was going on with the families in that church, but also is a fairly good (if precisely backward) description of what Jesus, or rather, THE SOLUTION, should probably be, in a world as impossible to succinctly sum up as ours.  

I was wondering when you were going to ask.